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Full text of "George Davis, attorney-general of the Confederate States : an address delivered before the Supreme Court of North Carolina, October 19, 1915"

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OCTOBER 19. 1915 




Raleioh, N. 0. 

Edwards & Bbououton Printing Oo. 






O F 




B V 


Captain Ashe said : 

I have been asked by the family of George Davis to present his por- 
trait to the Supreme Court and to request that it may take its place on 
your walls in company with those of the other distinguished men who 
have adorned the Bench and Bar of this high Court. As great as the 
honor is to have one's portrait preserved here, but few have been more 
worthy of it than the most illustrious .son of the Cape Fear, whose 
memory is an inheritance of the State and whose career and walk in life 
present a study at once attractive and profitable. Mr. Davis was a 
thorough Carolinian — the evolution of conditions on the Cape Fear 

While the southern part of North (^arolina was an unbroken wilder- 
ness, the Davises, the Moores, and his other progenitors made the first 
clearings on the lower reaches of that broad and noble stream. But, 
although the first to settle, they did not suffer the hardships that usually 
attend those who venture to subdue the primeval forest.s. They were 
not denied the companionship of friends, or social enjoyments, or the 
comforts that wealth affords. There were four of the Davis brothers 
in the original settlement; and one of them, Jehu, the forefather of 
Greorge Davis, in reply to the complaint of the Royal Governor that 
they had taken up too much land, represented that he and half a dozen 
other proprietors held only 75,000 acres of land, while they owned 1,200 
slaves, and were entitled to more land. They were a company of friends 
and kinspeople, accustomed to affluence, removing from Albemarle and 
South Carolina to a better location. 

In the maternal line, Mr. Davis was descended from William Swann. 
who settled Swann's Point opposite Jamestown in Virginia, and die<i 
there in 1638, and from Major Alexander Lillington, who in 1676, along 
with George Durant and others, turned out the Governor appointed by 
the Lords Proprietors, and established a free parliament in Albemarle; 
and in every succeeding generation his forbears and kinsmen were con- 
cerned in the administration of public affairs. 

The names ol' Roger Moore, of Maurice Moore, of Edward Moseley, 
and Sam Swaiin were still familiar in the households of New Hanover 
when on 1 March, 1820, at Porter's Neck, overlooking the ocean, George 
Davis was born to his parents, Thomas Frederick Davis and his wife, 
Sarah Isabella Eagles. He was their youngest child, the eldest, Thomas, 
born in 1804, being then a student at the University, Junius coming 
next, and then Ann, afterwards Mrs. Poisson, endowed witli uiuisual 
intellectual gifts and one of the most charming of her sex. Joseph 
Eagles, the father of Sarah Isabella, was a gentleman of elegant culture, 
and she herself M'as beautifully accomplished, and her children received 
from her many lovely characteristics. 

It was thus amid the best social surroundings that the youth of George 
Davis was passed; nor were the elements of a sturdy patriotism lacking, 
lie himself has drawn this picture: 

"In my early youth I remember an old man, bowed by age and infirmities, 
but of noble front and most commanding presence. Old and young gathered 
around him in love and veneration to listen to his stories of the olden times; 
and as he spoke of his country's trials, and of the deeds and sufferings of her 
sons, his eyes flashed with the ardor of youth and his voice rang like the 
battle charge of a bugle." 

Impressions such as these, receivenl in boyhood, necessarily left a deep 
mark on the individuality of George Davis. 

After being taught by excellent instructors, he was finally prepared 
for college by Moses A. Curtis, later the distinguished minister and 
botanist, who was then employed by Governor Dudley as a tutor for his 
children. How diligent he was as a boy is attested by his entering the 
University when fourteen and graduating in 1808, having just passed 
his eighteenth birthday. He shared the first honors of his class with 
Mr. Cuthbert, and delivered the valedictory. In that address he gave 
evidence of thought and scholarship. Speaking of the departure of his 
classmates from the University, he indulged the hope that "we will leave 
behind us a not unremembered name"; and, doubtless, afterwards that 
thought was broadened, and the hope became interwoven with his life's 

His brother, Thomas Frederick Davis, was practicing law at Wilming- 
ton, and, on graduating, George Davis entered his office and ai)plied him- 
self to the study of the law with the earnest purpose to excel in his pro- 
fession. Notwithstanding the social allurements of those halcyon days 
on the Cape Fear, he never abandoned the habit of diligent study formed 
in youth, but sought to win professional rewards by close application 
and [)ainstaking preparation, seldom equaled among the lawyers of 
North Carolina. First and last, he was a student of the law; but he did 
not neglect that literary culture that contributed to make him an orna- 
ment of his j)rofes3ion. While striving to become well versed in every 

department of legal loarning, ho also maiiilaiiuKJ a familiar aoquaiiitanfo 
with the chipsics and was an appreciative reader of general literature. 
He thus developed not only into the learned lawyer, but into the man of 
letters, the polished gentleman, and, withal, the eloquent advocate. In 
those early years — perhaps it was when his hrother abandoned the law to 
enter the ministry — Mr. Davis, in reply to a remark of a kinswoman, 
said that his own purpose was to pursue the law and attain the of 
his profession. He possessed not only hope, but confidence. 

The Wilmington Bar, from the days of Hooper and Maclaiiie, had 
ever been strong, with memories of the great equity lawyer, Samuel R. 
Jocelyn ; of the accomplished William H. Hill and erudile William K. 
Halsey; of Joseph Alston Hill, the superb orator, and William B. 
Meares, of acknowledged eminence; of Owen Holmes, of Judge Strange 
and Judge Toouier; but it never had been stronger than during the period 
of Mr. iJavis's career, when, adorned by William A. Wright, famed as a 
draughtsman of pleadings and as a conveyancer; by Joshua G. Wright, 
who added eloquence to his brother's learning; by Lucien Holmes, who 
had drunk deep at the well of the common law ; by Mauger London and 
Adam Empie, versed in commercial law ; by Duncan K. MacRae, the 
Meareses, the Waddells, the Devanes, and others learned and astute; and 
particularly by Robert Strange and Samuel J. Person, who took rank 
with Mr. Davis as an advocate and shared with him the high honors of 
the profession. Those, indeed, were competitors, magnificent in their 
equipment, strenuous in the contest, and calling for the exercise of the 
highest powers, if victory were to be won. But by diligence and careful 
preparation, Mr. Davis successfully coped on many a field with the ablest 
of his adversaries. 

Two years after he came to the bar, his future being assured, Mr. 
Davis had the good fortune to win the heart and hand of Miss Mary A. 
Polk, a daughter of Thomas G. Polk and a descendant of Colonel Tom 
Polk, immortal as the patriot leader who proclaimed independence in 
Mecklenburg in May, 1775 — herself a lady of rare loveliness of char- 
acter and of person, whose gentleness and refinement drew the heart of 
every associate to her, and who was in full sympathy witli the elegant 
tastes of her husband. A delightful atmo.sphere pervaded their home. 
Mr. Davis himself had a charming personality: was dark rather than 
blond, carried his head with an easy poise, was gracious in his nuinner, 
and posses^sed the art of pleasing to a renuirkable degree. Full of infor- 
mation, quick, and with a ready mind, he excelled in conversation and 
was a delightful companion. With all the manliness of his race, he wan 
bold and courageous when need be, but was ever the eoui'tly gentleman. 
Like his brother, the saintlv bishop, be was pure in thought and action, 
and a devout Christian. Familiar with the trend of .'^cicntifie thontrht. 
he was never shaken in the belief he learned at his mother's knee, but all 

hard matters of religious import that passed his compreheusiou lie 
humbly relegated to the realm of faith, and he accepted with, a clear 
conscience what was hidden in obscurity or was beyond his under- 

Writing of him after his death, Mrs. Jefferson Davis said: 

"He was one of the most exquisitely proportioned of men. His mind domi- 
nated his body, but his heart drew him near to all that was honorable and 
tender, as well as patriotic and faithful, in mankind. His literary tastes 
were diverse and catholic, and his anxious mind found relaxation in studying 
the literary confidences of others in a greater degree than I have ever known 
in any public man except Mr. Benjamin. One of the few hard things I ever 
heard him say was when some one asked him if he had read Swinburne's 
Laus TencrU, and added, 'You know it is printed on wrapping paper and 
bound in wall-paper,' he replied: 'I have never thought wall-paper wholesome, 
and am sorry to know there is enough wrapping paper on which to print it.' " 

Tolerant of human infirmities, Mr. Davis pursued the tenor of his 
life so evenly as never to have excited animosities ; but lie so despised 
ignoble conduct that it aroused his wrathful indignation, and he could 
neither spare a miscreant nor refrain from denouncing any departure 
from fair dealing. 

Such was the nmu, himself of a tender and affectionate nature, a pol- 
ished, courtly gentleman, loyal and steadfast in his friendships, with 
high ideals and lofty purposes. His motto seems to have been TJiorough- 
ness, and his guiding star Truth. 

He was always at home among his books, and he made friends of the 
choicest authors, and thus he was enabled to give an elevated tone to his 
addresses — even those hastily delivered, on a sudden occasion, in the 
courthouse — and his reputation grew as an elegant as well as an elo- 
quent orator. 

On the occasion of the death of Henry Clay he made an address that 
serves at once to illustrate the power of his imagination, his sentiment, 
and the simplicity of his style. I quote a paragraph : 

"He who has watched the sun in its bright course through the firmament 
and seen It gradually decline, until it went down in darkness beneath the 
horizon, may turn from the contemplation with no feeling of sorrow or 
regret, for he knows that the period of its absence is mercifully ordained as a 
season of necessary repose to him and all, and that the morrow will restore 
its beams to revive and reanimate all nature. But if the last declining ray 
which struck upon his eyelids had brought to him the conviction that he had 
gazed for the last time upon the sun in the heaven — that henceforward there 
was to be no more rising nor setting, no morning nor evening, nor light, nor 
heat; no effulgent day, with all its glorious beauties and excellencies, but 
night and darkness, unrelieved save by the twinkling stars, were to be the law 
of the earth forever — with what sensations would the poor wanderer view the 
last setting of the sun! 

"With feelings somewhat akin to those I have imagined, we behold the 
death of the great and good whom we love and reverence. But now they were 

here, with all tho generous impulses and oxceliinB virtues tliat dignify and 
adorn humanity clustering thickly around them. Wo rejoiced in their pre»- 
ence, we were better under their benignant influence, we were happy in their 
smiles — we felt that it was day, and looked not into the future. They are 
gone! The places of earth shall know them no more forever. The mys- 
terious law which loosens the silver cord and breaks the pitcher at the foun- 
tain penetrates the heart. The darkness and the thick night of desolation 
are upon us. But we have more than the pale rays of the twinkling stars 
still left to guide and cheer. By the light of their lofty deeds and kindly 
virtues memory gazes back into the past, and Is content. By the light of 
Revelation Hope looks beyond the grave into the bright day of immortality, 
and is happy. So with the consolation of memory and hope, let us take the 
lesson of the great calamity which has befallen our country." 

Ono observes hero the simple diction of Swift, and the elevated s(!nti- 
meut of Addison, and particularly a play of the fancy that has not often 
been found in the writings of a Carolinian. It has been these character- 
istics that have distinguished Mr. Davis, whether as an author or orator. 

At the Commencement of 1855 !Mr. Davis was the orator at the Uni- 
versity, and choosing for his subject The Men of the Cape Fear iji the 
Olden Time, he delivered an address that Dr. Battle in his History of 
the University mentions as an "extraordinary address," and the historian 
adds that "the interest was enhanced by the excellent delivery." Mr. 
Davis had familiarized himself with the history of the Cape Fear from 
original sources, and in a series of bold outlines he presented views of 
men and events so skillfully, so masterfully, so eloquently, that his 
address was an epic in prose, abounding in lofty flights, and, withal, 
casting such a halo of romance about his subject that it ser\'ed at once 
to enlighten the State on Cape Fear history and to awaken an interest 
that still survives. 

The next year, at the Greensboro Female College, he voiced his appre- 
ciation of a liberal education in the following notable sentences : 

"A rich and well-stored mind is the only true philosopher's stone, extracting 
pure gold from all the base material around. It can create its own beauty, 
wealth, power, happiness. It has no dreary solitudes. The past ages are Ita 
possession, and the long line of the illustrious dead are its friends. What- 
ever the world has seen of brave and noble, beautiful and good, it can com- 
mand. It mingles in all the grand and solemn scenes of history, and is an 
actor in every great and stirring event. It is by the side of Bayard as he 
stands alone upon the bridge and saves the army. It weeps over the true 
heart of chivalry, the gallant Sidney, as with dying hand he puts away the 
cup from his parched and fevered lips. It leaps into the yawning gulf with 
Curfiua; follows the white plume of Navarre at Ivry; rides with Hampden; 
mounts the scaffold with Russell, and catches the dying prayer of the noble 
Sir Harry Vane. It fights for glory at the Granicus. for fame at Agincourt, 
for empire at Waterloo, for power on the Ganges; for religion In Palestine, 
for country at Thermopylae, and for freedom at Bunker Hill. It marches with 
Alexander, reigns with Augustus, sings with Homer, teaches with Plato, 
pleads with Demosthenes, loves with Petrarch; is imprisoned with Paul, snf- 


fers with Stephen, and dies with Christ. It feels no tyranny, and knows no 
subjection. Misfortune cannot subdue it, power cannot crush it, unjust laws 
cannot oppress it. Ever steady, faithful, and true, shining by night as by 
day, it abides with you always and everywhere." 

In the years that were to come, when vicissitudes overtook him, and 
overwhelming calamity oppressed him, Mr. Davis doubtless found com- 
fort and strength in similar thoughts, and met the storm with a calmer 
soul because of them. 

While a student of history and of general literature, Mr. Davis was 
more particularly interested in the story of his own people, and from 
time to time he embodied his thoughts in addresses that were always cast 
with the skill of an orator and that contain many passages of singular 
merit, inflaming the imagination and fastening on the memory the pic- 
tures he so masterfully presented. Indeed, among the public men of the 
State he stands almost alone as a master in the field of literary endeavor. 

In the third volume of Southern Literature, Dr. Alphonso C. Smith, 
a competent and severe critic, accords to Mr. Davis deserved praise for 
excellence in literary attainment and literary accomplishment. He 
properly attributes to him the rare power of the 

"Choice word and measured phrase above the reach 
Of ordinary men." 

Besides emphasizing that Mr. Davis possessed the most important 
quality of the trained historian, he says that he brought an interpreta- 
tive imagination to bear upon every subject that he discussed; that he 
visualized the scenes and vitalized the events that he sought to portray. 
"It is this quality of mind," continues Dr. Smith, "that gives color, 
locale, and atmosphere to what would otherwise be mere abstract .state- 
ment or unrelated fact. This vivifying power is not the exclusive dowry 
of the poet, but distinguishes equally the orator from the mere talker, 
the historian from the mere annalist." And then Mr. Davis "had that 
rarest of gifts, the feeling for the right word in the right place. There 
was no straining after effect, but his style was always clear, strong, and 
flexible. He could be dignified without being heavy, and playful without 
being light." According him great power as an orator. Dr. Smith adds : 
"His power over an audience did not rest merely on oratorical gifts, but 
rather upon the high moral, social, and civic ideals which he exemplified 
in his daily life." 

Never seeking political honors, never a candidate for public place, 
Mr. Davis was still highly esteemed by the Wliig Party a.s in thorough 
accord with its policies. Indeed, in 1848, without his knowledge, he 
was voted for in the Whig Convention for the nomination of Governor, 
and came withiii one vote of being nominated. At length the troubles 
of 1860 came to disturb the placid course of events. In the campaign 

of that year his full inllueuce was given to the Constitutional Union 
Party, and he warmly supported John Pool for Governor and John Bell 
for the l^rcsidenoy. 

In the dark hours of January, 1861, when the Cotton States were 
withdrawing from the Union, the eyes of many turned to him for inspira- 
tion and guidance; and when the North Carolina Assembly appointed 
delegates to a National Convention, seeking some settlement of the sec- 
tional issues that would restore and preserve the Union, Mr. Davis was 
selected as one of them, his associates being Chief Justice Ruffin, Gov- 
ernor Morehead, Governor Reid, and Daniel M. Barringer. 

The Convention met at Washington February 4th, and was attended 
by delegates from nearly every State except those on the Pacific, and 
those that had seceded. At the outset, however, Salmon P. Chase nega- 
tived the idea that the North would make any concession, declaring that 
"the election must be regarded as a triumph of principles cherished in 
the hearts of the people of the Free States," while Mr. Lincoln urged 
his friends, "No step backward." 

All resolutions were referred to a grand committee. Nine days passed 
with no report. At length, on the tenth day, the committee reported a 
proposition for a constitutional amendment composed of seven sections. 
Two weeks elapsed in secret session, the South awaiting the result of its 
appeal to the Union sentiment of the North — in anxious suspense. 

On the 27th Mr. Davis telegraphed: "The Convention has just ad- 
journed. North Carolina voted against every article except one." In 
the Convention each State had a single vote, cast by a majority of its 
delegates. Davis, Reid, and Barringer determined the action of North 
Carolina, Ruffin and Morehead accepting the propositions, not because 
they were at all satisfactory, but with the hope of preventing war. 

The Republicans in Congress, however, had no mind to prevent war. 
Chandler, of Michigan, gave voice to their purposes when he declared in 
the Senate: "No concession; no compromise; aye! give us strife, even 
blood, before a yielding to the demands of traitorous insolence !" 

Union sentiment was in the ascendant in North Carolina; but among 
the people of the Cape Fear section the hope of an amicable adjustment 
had almost faded away. On the retuni of ]\rr. Davis the citizens of 
Wilmington invited him to address them, and he immediately complied. 
He declared that he had gone to the Peace Convention determined to 
exhaust every honorable means to obtain a fair, honorable, and final 
settlement of existing difficulties. lie had striven to that end. to the 
best of his abilities, but had been unsuccessful, for he "could never 
accept the plan adopted by the Convention as consistent with the rights, 
the interests, or the dignity of North Carolina." It was a masterly 
address, and the people were profoundly impressed. 

From that time the Capo Fear was entirely united. It followed Mr. 


The reeommendatiou of the Peace Conveution, as favorable as it was 
to the North, however, was not accepted by the malignants in Congress. 

President Buchanan had declared that he would never embrue his 
hands in the blood of his countrymen ; but after a fortnight of vacilla- 
tion, war was determined on by Mr. Lincoln and his cabinet; and it 
opened at Charleston on April 12th. When it came — when the only 
question presented was whether we should fight with or against the 
South — all differences among our people ceased. 

The State Convention on June 18th chose delegates to the Confederate 
Congress, two for the State at large and one for each district. Mr. 
Davis received the highest vote given for those presented for the State 
at large, and on July 20th took his seat in the Provisional Congress of 
the Confederacy. 

At the following session of the General Assembly there were a dozen 
distinguished men proposed for Senators, and several days were passed 
in unsuccessful balloting; but eventually those who had been former 
Whigs — the former Union element — gave Mr. Davis and Mr. Dortch 
enough support to elect them over all others. 

In the Senate Mr. Davis took high position. As Jackson, Lee, and 
Bishop-General Polk — the uncle of his wife — bore themselves in the 
field, so did he bear himself in the Senate. He was steadfast and deter- 
mined. The sword being drawn, his country at war, the independence 
of the Southern people at stake, he knew nothing but to foster the Cause, 
to strengthen the army, and to make every exertion to attain victory. 

Unhappily in North Carolina all were not of that mind. At the 
August election, 1862, a faction in the State, calling themselves Con- 
servatives, dominated the Legislature; and, in turn, it was measurably 
dominated then by William W. Holden, the editor of The Standard, 
who, however, had not yet gone to the full length of his subsequent 
career. But every Conservative who gave aid and comfort to a "De- 
structive," as Holden called the Confederates, was stigmatized as guilty 
of a breach of faith. 

As mentioned by Dr. Hamilton in his Reconstruction in North Caro- 
lina, when the Legislature met, "it proceeded to oust the Secretary of 
State and the State Treasurer, the beginning of the execution of the 
policy Holden had mapped out." "And in further pursuance of this 
plan," says Dr. Hamilton, "Mr. Davis was not reelected to the Con- 
federate Senate." His term was to expire on 17 February, 1864, and his 
superior excellence was so apparent that, in January, 1864, the Presi- 
dent invited him to accept the position of Attorney-General in his 
cabinet, the post previously held by Governor Bragg. Then ensued a 
period of close intimacy between these two great men, animated by the 
same holy patriotism, in which they became endeared to each other. 

In those troublous times, when a faction was intent on criticising the 
President and others were throwing impediments in the pathway of the 


Administration, wlit-n at every turn some malcontent stood ready to 
denounce the measures taken to secure victory as oppressive and tending 
to despotism, there were necessarily many delicate questions to be con- 
sidered by the Attorney-General. It has been said that Mr. Davis was 
a "strict constructionist," nieaninp tliat lie maintained the rights of the 
States where power had not been delegated to Congress. In his opinions 
ho was independent, and it was not always that he agreed with the Presi- 
dent. But he brought to the consideration of all subjects an unbiased 
mind and profound reflection, and doubtless the weight of his argument 
often carried conviction and determined the action of the cabinet. Of 
his colleagues, Benjamin alone was of equal excellence, and while Ben- 
jamin possessed a master mind, ho probably was not more conversant 
with constitutional or international law than Mr. Davis was. Of his 
relations with the President, it is only needful to quote from a letter 
written bv Mrs. Jefferson Davis to Dr. James Sprunt: 

"Mr. Davis's public life was as irreproachable as his private course. Once 
when my husband came home weary with the divergences of opinion in his 
cabinet, he said: 'Davis does not always agree with me; but I generally find 
he was right at last.' My husband felt for him the most sincere friendship, 
aa well as confidence and esteem, and 1 think there was never the slightest 
shadow intervened between them." 

During the year 1863 Mr. Davis suffered a severe bereavement in the 
death of his beloved wife, who left several children of tender age to his 
care. The oldest child, Junius, just seventeen, had already abandoned 
his studies, and had enlisted as a private in Moore's Light Battery at the 
front in Virginia. The home had to be broken up. 

Meeting at Richmond Miss Nominia Fairfax of Virginia, Mr. Davis 
was drawn to her by her loveliness and her gentleness, and he found her 
a woman of fine accomplishments, with sympathies and tastes in 
thorough accord with his own. Their intercourse ripened into affection, 
and eventually they became engaged to be married. Shortly afterward 
Wilmington fell, (Joneral Lee was forced to evacuate Petersburg, and 
Kichmond was hastily abandoned. 

Mr. Davis accompanied the President to Charlotte, where for a few 
days the Confederate Government survived. 

It is beyond my capabilities to adequately describe conditions during 
those historic days when the light of the Confederacy was being extin- 
guished ; when the star of hope faded away ; gloom gave place to despair, 
and black night overcast our lives. It was the occasion imagined by 
Mr. Davis years before — when one gazed for the last time upon the 
sun in tin; heavens, when henceforth there was to be no more rising nor 
setting, no morning nor evening, nor light nor heat, no effulgent day, but 
only darkness and night. Each somber hour brought us step by step to 
the final catastrophe. 


The sudden proximity of a division of Federal cavalry, as if it had 
dropped from the clouds that hung so low and heavily over us; the 
attack of a disorganized regiment on a Government storehouse to possess 
themselves of its contents; the assassination of President Lincoln, and 
the startling information that the murder was attributed to the machina- 
tions of President Davis and other Confederate leaders; the refusal of 
General Johnston to prolong the struggle, and the surrender of the Con- 
federate forces under his command ; the downfall of the Confederacy 
and the dissolution of government; the chaos that ruled amid the calam- 
ity and wreck of all of our hopes — these heart-rending events came in 
quick succession, utterly overwhelming us. My own orders to report 
across the Mississippi were annulled, with a suggestion to go home. 
Necessity led me to take thought for the morrow. Hearing that there 
was some specie in a train, I asked Mr, George Davis about it, saying 
that I had no money. With an expression of great pain, betokening that 
his own situation was felt most sorely, he replied that he knew nothing 
of it; that he himself had not a dollar, and knew not what to do. As 
Confederate money fell with the Confederacy, there was no longer any 
currency. There was no money. One could not pay for anything, for 
there was no currency. Mr. Davis, like every one else, was penniless. 

The President proposed to pass on to the South. Mr. Davis, oppressed 
not only by the common calamity, but by his personal situation — with 
thoughts, first, of his obligations to his country, and, then, of his duties 
of manhood, anxious for his scattered children, and solicitous for her to 
whom he was affianced — applied to the President to know if his services 
as Attorney-General were longer required, and received a reply in the 
negative. The President added : 

"It is gratifying to me to be assured that you are willing, at any personal 
sacrifice, to share my fortunes when they are least promising, and that you 
only desire to know whether you can aid me, in this perilous hour, to over- 
come surrounding difficulties. It is due to such generous friendship that I 
should candidly say to you that it is not probable for some time to come 
your services will be needful. It is with sincere regret that I look forward to 
being separated from you. Your advice has been to me both useful and 
cheering. The Christian spirit which has ever pervaded your suggestions, no 
less than the patriotism which has marked your conduct, will be remembered 
by me when in future trials I may have need for both." 

On the next day, the 26th of April, his resignation having been 
accepted, Mr. Davis bade farewell to the President, who with an escort 
departed for the South. 

In that dire hour, when black night came, with no hope of dawn, the 
friends separated — each to face perils, to bear calamity, to undergo 
fearful experiences — but to meet once more on an historic occasion, 
amid great anxiety, which, happily, gave place to rejoicing, in which 
the entire South had its share. 


Fortiinato was it for the human raco that when Pandora's box was 
closed there must have remained in it not only hope, but fortitude — 
such fortitude as made many an ancient famous; such fortitude as haB 
been the noblest attribute of man in all afjos, and has not been wanting 
in our own times — such as was displayed by the men of the Titanic 
when the waters of oblivion were ready to receive tliem. With equal 
manhood and fortitude Mr. Davis stood prepared for the ordeals that 
awaited him. lie took his way to the home of his brother, the venerable 
Bishop of South Carolina, and in its seclusion, in its atmosphen^ of 
piety and resignation, he found needed rest and repose; and there, doubt- 
less, passed between these distin/aniished men, mingled with brotherly 
affection, confidences of their pains, their griefs and sorrows, and of 
their duties to themselves and others. While there, as yet undetermined 
as to his future, Mr. Davis learned of the order for his arrest and the 
arrest of all the Confederate cabinet, and of the proclamation issued by 
President Johnson offering a reward of one liundred thousand dollars 
for the capture of President Davis. 

He felt that it was his duty to preserve his life and liljcrty, and to 
seek to provide for his children ; and liis only hope lay in escajiing from 
the country and reaching England. About the middle of May, then, ho 
left his brother's and sought a way to the coast. Some account of what 
befell him is contained in a letter to his son, Junius Davis, who fortu- 
nately survived the perils of the retreat from Petersburg, and of Appo- 
mattox, and after an adventurous career had returned to Wilmington : 

On Board U. S. S. Memphis, 
At Sea, 14th November, 1865. 

My Dear Sox: — After numberless anxieties, difficulties, troubles, hardships 
and danpers, I find myself a prisoner of war on board this ship on my way to 
New York to await the action of the Government. 

My life for the past six months has been so sadly painful that I hate to 
recall it. But I must give you an outline. Some day before very long I hope 
to be able to tell you all the incidents of my long wanderings. I arrived in 
Florida on the 3d of June at Cousin Sophie Lane's, not far from Lake City, 
and stayed there two days; then to Mr. Chestnutt's near Gainesville, where 
I stayed ten days; then to a gentleman's near Ocala, where I stayed six days 
longer, and then went down into Sumter County — on the very verge of civili- 
zation and clean beyond good morals and religions — where I remained near 
three months, waiting in vain for a chance to get abroad. At length, I heard 
of a gentleman about to sail from Smyrna, on the east coast, for Nassau, and 
going there, he kindly offered me a passage. But when I saw the craft In 
which he propcsed to make the voyage, I was amazed at the rashness of the 
undertaking. The Gulf Stream between Florida and the Bahamas is noto- 
riously the most dangerous navigation on the whole coast; and fancy the 
attempt to cross it during the equinox in a little boat about twenty feet long 
and seven wide, with rotten sails and a leaky hull! But the gentleman was 
determined to go, and I wouldn't be left behind. We sailed from Smyrna on 
the 15th of September, and the calculation was that, with good luck, we would 
reach Nassau in five or six days. Instead of that, we were thirty-three days 


beating about the coast, sometimes on the open sea and sometimes in the bays 
and among the reefs and keys — often straitened for food, and repeatedly in 
such imminent peril that nothing but God's Providence saved us from de- 
struction. At length, being far down the coast, and finding it impossible to 
reach Nassau, we bore away for Key West, where we arrived on the thirty- 
third day. There I learned the action of the Government in releasing the 
other members of the Cabinet, and I immediately determined to return and 
surrender myself. But while awaiting the arrival of a vessel in which I 
might take passage, I was arrested. I have no idea what my destination will 
be — probably Fort LaFayette and solitary confinement; but if they let me com- 
municate with and see my friends, even that will be preferable to the life I 
have been leading. When I know what is to be done with me, I will write 
you again, and you must write me as soon as you ascertain where I am. 

Happily the frenzy that once possessed the North had spent somewhat 
of its virulence, and, despite the bitterness that rankled in the hearts of 
the irreconcilable malignants, moderate counsels prevailed. 

After some mouths of confinement at Fort Hamilton, Mr. Davis was 
released on parole, to remain within the State of North Carolina, and 
to report his residence monthly to the military authorities. 

Returning to Wilmington, he gathered his children around him, and 
opened his office for the practice of his profession. 

As soon as cii'cumstances admitted, he sought the fulfillment of the 
promise given him by Miss Fairfax, who was persuaded to come to 
North Carolina, and they were married at Weldon on the 9th day of 
May, 1866, and Mr. Davis entered again on domestic life, made still 
dearer by its added cares, by the quietude that succeeded the storms and 
trials of the past, and by his entire participation in the sorrows and 
griefs, in the hopes and apprehensions of his community. 

And he met the new conditions with an admirable philosophy. 

"During the years that remained to him," remarks Dr. Smith, "he 
threw his influence in favor of complete reconciliation and readjustment. 
There was no weak plaint over an irrevocable past, but only brave words 
and high courage for the new duties that the new regime imposed." 

To the people his manly acceptance of the misfortune that had over- 
taken him, his uncomplaining endurance of the ills that had to be borne, 
were object-lessons of great value. And true it is that the greatest 
service one renders his community is in times of adversity rather than 
in the days of their prosperity. The force of his example, like that of 
Lee, was not without its efl^ect, and vain repinings faded away in the 
new life of the community. 

His home was a delight. It was a privilege to enter there and share 
in its enjoyments: light and sweetness mingled with dignity and repose. 
Especially was it attractive to his young kinsmen, whom both Mrs. 
Davis and he received with warm affection, giving them sympathy and 
love, and imparting strength and fostering right living and unselfish 


Mr. Davis hud never sought popular applause; had never been a 
candidate for puhlic favor. His inclinations led him otherwise. But he 
valued the esteem and regard of his friends and was deeply interested 
in whatever affected the life and fortunes of the people. 

Pardoned by President Johnson in June, lfS66, he was once more a 
citizen; and he became the wise counselor, the prudent adviser of those 
who blazed the way out of the difficult wilderness of those evil times. 
And he constantly grew in personal influence. 

In the spring of 1870 General Lee, being in failing health, made a 
visit to Florida. In returning, he and his daughter stopped for some 
days with Mr. Davis, and the community paid their respects to him. It 
was an occasion that touched the hearts of the people, for they still lived 
in a Confederate atmosphere, and their reverence for General Lee was 
unbounded. They had never seen him before, and now they almost wor- 
shiped him. It was an especial gratification that the revered hero of 
the Confederacy, whom they esteemed the first man of the world since 
the days of Washington, should be the guest of their own beloved citizen, 
and the community felt honored by his presence and more drawn to Mr. 
Davis than ever. Two months later General Lee passed away, and when 
the people had assembled in the city hall, Mr. Davis, clad in black, with 
bowed head and every feature, as well as his posture, betokening grief, 
delivered an address that in conception and execution has rarely been 
equaled. By the modulation of his voice and his simple words of grief, 
he so moved the audience that in every part of the hall men wept, and 
there was an exhibition of public woe such as has seldom been witnessed. 

During the Reconstruction period, when the White people were making 
a heroic effort to maintain and preserve their civilization, Mr. Davis 
delivered an address in the opera house that was perhaps the most admi- 
rable political effort ever made in America. He rose to the full height 
of the occasion, and gave free rein to his native eloquence. In the midst 
of it, a stranger, some Northern man, carried away with excitement and 
enthusiasm, exclaimed to me: "Good heavens! who is that man? That 
speech delivered in New York would be worth a hundred thousand dol- 
lars to any man." More — it would have immortalized him. 

Again, in the great campaign of 1876, when every true son of Carolina 
put his shoulder to the wheel to make sure of the election of Vance as 
Governor, Mr. Davis electrified great audiences with his splendid ora- 
tory. The learned and critical Dr. Kingsbury, whose elegant taste and 
discriminating judgment give particular value to his opinion, said of 
that speech in the Wilmington Star, of which he was the editor: 

"The speech to which we listened is a very memorable one. It will long 
abide with us as one of those felicitous, rounded, finished efforts of a highly 
endowed and noble Intellect that will be a memory and a joy forever. 

"As a composition the effort of Mr. Davis was very admirable. There was 
himior, there was sarcasm, there was an exquisite irony, there were flashes of 


wit, there was an outburst of corrosive scorn and indignation, that were won- 
derfully artistic and effective. At times a felicity of illustration would 
arrest your attention, and a grand outburst of high and ennobling eloquence 
would thrill you with the most pleasurable emotions. The taste was exceed- 
ingly fine, and, from beginning to end, the workings of a highly cultured, 
refined, graceful, and elegant mind were manifest. There were passages 
delivered with high dramatic art that would have electrified any audience on 
earth. If that speech had been delivered before an Athenian audience in the 
days of Pericles, or in Rome when Cicero thundered forth his burning and 
sonorous eloquence, or in Westminster Hall, with Burke, and Fox, and Sheri- 
dan among the auditors, he would have received their loudest acclaims, and 
his fame would have gone down the ages as one of those rarely gifted men 
who knew well how to use his native speech and to play with the touch of a 
master on that grand instrument, the human heart! 

"We could refer at length, if opportunity allowed, to the scheme of his argu- 
ment, to his magnificent peroration, in which passion and imagination swept 
the audience and led them captive at the will of the magician; to the exqui- 
sitely apposite illustrations, now quaint and humorous and then delicate and 
pathetic, drawn with admirable art from history and poetry and the sacred 
Truth — to these and other points we might refer. 

"How can words, empty words, reproduce the glowing eloquence and en- 
trancing power of the human voice, when that voice is one while soft as 
Apollo's lute, or resonant as the blast of a bugle under the influence of deep 
passion? How can human language bring back a forgotten strain or convey 
an exact impression made by the tongue of fire when burdened with a majestic 

Mr. Davis continued for several years to make addresses, political, 
literary, and historical — all con amore, and therefore well done. 

His last public appearance was on the occasion of the death of Presi- 
dent Davis, in 1889, when he addressed a great assemblage in the opera 
house at Wilmington. He was already in feeble health and he spoke 
with unusual tenderness of his departed friend. 

President Davis, after their leave-taking at Charlotte, had been 
arrested in May, 1865, and confined in Fortress Monroe as a military 
prisoner, and had been indicted for treason and charged with complicity 
in the assassination of President Lincoln. Shackled in his casemate, 
and with a sentry passing momentarily at his door, his health gave way, 
and the South, regarding that he was suffering a vicarious punishment, 
felt for him the utmost sympathy and anxiety. The cruelty he endured 
made the people sore at heart. At the end of two years, on application, 
the Circuit Court at Richmond issued a writ of habeas corpus, and, by 
order of the President, it was obeyed, and he was surrendered by the 
military to the Federal court. A motion was made for bail, and all the 
South held its breath in suspense, hoping that the tyranny would be 
overpast. The wife of President Davis and many anxious friends at- 
tended, awaiting the decision of the court. Among them was George 
Davis, who had sought his friend for consultation, for support, and to 
cheer him in this momentous ordeal. 


Referring to that occasion, Mr. Davis, in his address, said : 

"I promised Mrs. Davis, as soon as I had any Intimation of what the court 
was RoinR to do, to conic and report. I never knew how I got out of that 
courthouse, or through the crowd that lined the streets, but I found mynelf in 
Mrs. Davis's room, and reported. In a little while I looked out of the window 
and saw that the streets were lined with thousands and thousands of the 
people of Richmond, and scarcely passage was there for the carriago, in which 
Mr. Davis rode at a funeral gait. And as he rode every head was bared, not a 
sound was heard, except now and then a lone sigh. And so he ascended to 
his wife's chamber. That room was crowded with friends, male and female. 
As Mr. Davis entered, they rushed to him and threw their arms around him. 
They embraced each other; old soldiers, men of tried daring, cried like in- 
fants. Dear old Dr. Minnegerode lifted up his hands, with big tears rolling 
down his cheeks, and the assembled company knelt down while he offered up 
thanksgiving to God for having restored to us our beloved chieftain." 

Such was the reunion two years after the fateful parting at Charlotte 
on the dissolution of the Confederacy. 

Six years later, Mr. Davis having gone to join his friend in the spirit 
land, a memorial of him was prepared by James Sprunt, from which I 
quote a reference to a passage in this last address : 

"In the concluding passage, in which he spoke of the President's religious 
faith, he unconsciously reflected his own simple and abiding trust in God; 
and we can find no words which more fittingly describe the Christian life of 
OUR Mr. Davis than those he uttered of his dead chieftain: 

" 'He was a high-souled, true-hearted Christian gentleman. And if our 
poor humanity has any higher form than that, I know not what it is. His 
great and active intellect never exercised itself with questioning the being of 
God or the truth of His revelation to man. Where he understood, he admired, 
worshiped, adored. Where he could not understand, he rested unquestioningly 
upon a faith that was the faith of a little child — a faith that never wavered, 
and that made him look always undoubtingly, fearlessly, through life, through 
death, to life again.' " 

Likewise, by way of presenting the man himself, I quote another 
passage : 

"I have often thought what was it that the Southern people had to be most 
proud of in all the proud things of their record. Not the achievements of 
our arms. No man is more proud of them than I; no man rejoices more in 
Manassas, Chancellorsville, and in Richmond; but all nations have their vic- 
tories. There is something I think better than that, and it was this: that 
through all the bitterness of that time, and throughout all the heat of that 
fierce contest, Jefferson Davis and Robert E. I^ee never spoke a word, never 
wrote a line, that the whole neutral world did not accept as the very indis- 
putable truth. Upon that my memory rests more proudly than upon anything 
else. It is a monument better than marble, more durable than brass." 

Again, in An Episode in Cape Fear IliMnry, one of Mr. Davis'.s his- 
torical addresses, occurs this passage: 

"Slavery is in its grave, and nothing can disturb its eternal rest. I would 
not, if I could, raise it from the dead. The slave Is free. God speed him in 


his freedom and make him worthy of it. The slaveholder has passed into 
history at the cannon's mouth. His future life must be there, and there he 
will live forever. He did the State some service; was great in council and 
in action, clear in honor and in truth, and always a man whenever true man- 
hood was wanted. He knew how to compel the love of his friends and the 
respect of his enemies, and how to build his proudest monument in his coun- 
try's greatness. But there are those who never loved him, and whose fashion 
still it is to make him the embodiment of evil, the moral scarecrow of the 
times. True, he ended well. True, that as he stood and died by his hearth- 
stone, fighting, as he believed, for God and country, he was something for 
gods and men to behold. And do they think that the spirit which brought 
this Republic out of chaos, and directed it for the fifty years of its truest 
greatness and purity, can be annihilated by a proclamation? And do they 
believe that Washington and Jefferson and Jackson and Clay and Stonewall 
and Lee and all the long roll of our heroes and patriots and statesmen are 
but dead names, pale ghosts that can but squeak and gibber at their fallen 
greatness? That they have left no living memories in their children's hearts, 
no sacred seed that can once more bourgeon and bloom for our country's 
honor? Oh, no! That spirit is not dead. It will rise again. Not in its old 
likeness, for old things have passed away. But transformed and quickened 
into a new life. Once more it will make itself a name for the Nation to sound. 
Once again it will step to the front and pass first in fight as it was wont to do 
whenever great opinions are clashing or a great cause imperiled. Once again 
to the front, whenever and wherever freedom's battle is to be fought. Once 
again to the front, no more to contend with brethren in arms, but only in gen- 
erous strife for the glory and honor of a common country." 

First, truth and honor — then a just pride in a glorious past, w^ith a 
confident reliance on manhood for the future — such sentiments were 
inbred in the very fiber of Mr. Davis, and were the foundation stones 
on which rested the superstructure of his sentient life. 

As a statesman Mr. Davis was guided by the interests and honor of 
his State and people. In his early years he espoused the doctrines of 
the political party that stood for improvement. He ranged himself 
alongside of Dr. Frederick Hill, known locally as the Father of the 
Public School System, whose bill to establish public schools w-as incoi'- 
porated into the act that the Assembly passed inaugurating the school 
system. He embraced the policy of Dudley, the apostle of internal im- 
provement. He realized that the law of existence is constant change, 
and that the object of one's endeavors should be progress and betterment. 
While holding fast to what was admirable in existing conditions, he 
advocated such changes as offered a hope of promoting the welfare of 
the State and the elevation, happiness, and prosperity of the people. He 
was in sympathy with those who sought the amelioration of the hard- 
ships of the old law. Nearly fifty years have passed, and in my memory 
is still an echo of his powerful pleading for the dissenting opinion of 
Judge Battle in State against Barfield, and his earnest presentation of 
the opinion in State against Wills as an enlightened view of the law. 


In his profession he was master of the principles, and he kept abreast 
of the Court by faithfully .studying every adjudicated case. He pre- 
pared his cases with the utmost pains, and fathomod them lO the depths, 
so that he was ready at every point. 

While he was engaged in nearly every important case on the Cape 
Fear, there is one I must advert to. 

Fn October, 1869, a vessel entered the harbor of Wilmington, claiming 
to be a man of war fitted out to aid the insurrectionists in Cuba. Among 
her officers were several ex-Confederate naval officers, who had the sym- 
pathy of the community. The vessel was seized by the Government, as 
operating in violation of our neutrality laws. The proceedings in court 
were novel and the law obscure. 

Mr. Davis represented the Cuban Junta in New York, and was re- 
tained in their behalf by one of the most prominent and able members of 
the New York bar, their general counsel, who may be called Mr. L. He 
was at that time, also, general counsel for the Western Union Telegraph 
Company and many other large concerns. Mr. L. came to Wilmington 
several times to confer with Mr. Davis about the trial. In one of their 
first conferences Mr. Davis suggested that the most serious question in 
the case, and the one that caused him the greatest anxiety, was the stand- 
ing in court of the claimant of the vessel. The Cuban Junta represented 
the insurgents, and the insurgents had no legal entity, and their govern- 
ment was not recognized as lawful. Mr. L. at first was disposed to pooh- 
pooh the suggestion ; but Mr. Davis persisted in it with such earnestness 
that when Mr. L. returned to New York he took it into special considera- 
tion. He eventually became of the same opinion as Mr. Davis, and 
wrote to him, frankly acknowledging his own error, and saying that Mr. 
Davis was entirely right, and that he knew more about the law of the 
case than he (Mr. L.) did. In that case Mr. Davis displayed an exten- 
sive and erudite acquaintance with a branch of jurisprudence developed 
from the civil law and not within the sphere of the ordinary practi- 
tioner; but as Attorney-General of the Confederate States he liad 
sounded all the shoals and knew the quicksands of international law. 
The trial of the case was a hard and protracted struggle, and told 
severely on the attorneys engaged in it. Indeed, Judge Person did not 
survive it, but expired with his harness on. Mr. Davis likewise suffered. 
He was attacked during the close of the proceedings with fatty degenera- 
tion of the heart, and for a long period was most desperately ill— indeed, 
at one time all hope of recovery was abandoned ; but his life had been 
so temperate, his vitality so unimpaired, that be stood the straiti, and 
finally passed successfully througli the crisis. 

On the organization of the Wilmington and Manchester Kailroad he 
became general counsel for that company. As a result of the war, the 
property of that company had to bo sold under a decree, at the instance 
of bondholders, represented by a great firm of New York lawyers. When 


the time came for the decree to be drawn, the New York attorneys 
confessed that they could not draw it to meet the involved equities and 
the difficult requirements of the case, and they were driven to the neces- 
sity of asking Mr. Davis to render them that service. But that was 
hardly singular, for many ISTorth Carolina lawyers have certainly been 
superior to Northern lawyers of the highest reputation. 

The Manchester road was incorporated in 1847, and Mr. Davis con- 
tinued as its general counsel during its existence, and when it was merged 
in the Atlantic Coast Line he became counsel of that company and so 
remained until his death, in 1896. 

As general counsel of the parent road, developed into the great system 
of the Atlantic Coast Line, the service rendered by him was of the 
highest order; and so masterful was he in dealing with the novel ques- 
tions that necessarily arose in adjusting equities in the successive steps 
of that complicated business, that in a measure there has been no litiga- 
tion by that company. 

So entirely satisfactory was Mr. Davis's service that the Atlantic 
Coast Line valued him most highly, appreciating not only his learning 
and the soundness of his legal opinions, but his excellence and sterling 
characteristics ; and, in association with him as adviser, the management 
of that great system has ever worthily received and enjoyed a public con- 
fidence that has been accorded to but few others in the history of rail- 

After Mr. Davis's son, Junius Davis, came to the bar, in due course, 
he was admitted as a partner, and when Mr. Davis died his mantle was 
worthily worn by Junius Davis; and in recent years Thomas W. Davis 
has been associated with his father, Junius Davis, the firm still main- 
taining its fonner prestige. Thus beginning with George Davis, and 
then he in association with his son, and then the son in association with 
a grandson, covering a period of sixty-eight years, the Davises have con- 
tinued without interruption to be attorneys and counsel for some con- 
stituent railroad of the Atlantic Coast Line. 

This is a record of long and continuous service without an equal, as 
far as I know, in our country. It speaks in trumpet tongue of superioi 
excellence, and, under the known conditions, reflects credit on the man- 
agement of the corporations, while it is a mark of honorable service and 
of high capabilities on the part of the attorneys. 

In 1879, when the Western North Carolina Railroad, which the State 
then entirely owned, met with difficulties in crossing the mountains, and 
private parties made a proposition to buy it and complete it. Governor 
Jarvis became convinced that the proposition should be accepted, and 
after conference with many of the public men of the State, who assented, 
he asked the advice of Mr. Davis and Judge Ruffin, and they recom- 
mended it. He thereupon requested them to act as special counsel of 
the State in the matter. 


Govornor Jurvis convened the Ix'gislHturo in extra session, and Judge 
Uuliin and Mr. Davis addressed tlie Legislature and explained the propo- 

Years afterwards Governor Jarvis thus mentioned Mr. Davis'.-; ofTort 
on that occasion : 

"It was a great speech, of great sweep and power. His diction was perfect 
and his manner faultless. Some of his periods, describing the l)eauty and 
grandeur of our mountain section and Us prosperity under the new State 
policy, were beautiful in the extreme. His speech swept away all opposition, 
and when the vote was taken, but few in either House voted against author- 
izing the sale. After the adjournment of the Legislature, Mr. Davis and Judge 
RufBn prepared the deed for the sale of the road and the contract for its com- 
pletion. For all their valuable service they declined to receive a penny. No 
two men ever served the State more faithfully, more efficiently, or more 

Mr. Davis was particularly noted lor his precision in statement and 
the clearness of his legal instruments. Indeed, his very handwriting 
was an index of that characteristic, every letter being perfectly formed, 
and his writing without blemish. 

Judge Connor, in an extended address on the life and career of Mr. 
Davis, said: 

"Mr. Davis was one of the great lawyers — the great advocates — of the 
State for more than a third of a century; he was profound in the learning of 
the law." 

Again : 

"One who for many years practiced at the same bar, and whose opinion is of 
value and judgment is just, says: 'He loved the science of the law, and to It 
he gave the most devoted study and unremitting toil, forcibly illustrating, by 
the care and completeness with which he prepared his cases, the amplitude 
of his researches and his wide survey and scope of knowledge — all combined 
by consummate skill into clear, cogent, and convincing argument, perfect in 
Its construction.' Among his best and finest arguments, now recalled, are 
those of Jaffrai/ v. Bear, 93 N. C. Rep.; Williams v. Bank. 79th; London v. 
R. R., 88th. These are all familiar to the bar as involving new and 
difficult questions of law." 

"A gentleman of fine discrimination and severe standards" is quoted 
by Judge Connor as saying: 

"One of the most beautiful arguments, as well as the most persuasive and 
convincing, I have ever heard, was made by Mr. Davis while too feeble to 
stand in court, and speaking, by permission, from his chair." 

Judge Connor adds his own appreciation 

over u .v/i.ii. TTiiii a. Doi ui icvuf^iiiicu duiiii.t. 1 nr ai^iit-u soi^iai ^,;all^t•^, lu 

one of which was involved a number of diffliult questions, regarding the 
always difficult question of the contractual liability of married women. Aided 


by his learning, I was enabled to steer clear of error — at least, it was so held 
by the Supreme Court. I recall that he expressed regret that we had not 
given full force and effect to the constitutional and statutory changes in the 
law in this respect." 

In criminal cases Mr. Davis was strong and effective, and whenever 
he was to speak the courtroom was always crowded to overflowing. The 
general outpouring of the people on such occasions was a tribute to his 
oratory and to his powers as an advocate that was accorded to no com- 

And, indeed, in a particular manner, if your Honors please, did the 
people of the State manifest their appreciation of Mr. Davis's excellence 
as a jurist and as a citizen. "When the term for which the Chief Justice 
elected in 1868 was approaching its end, and the time was ripe for nomi- 
nations, he was generally thought of in connection with the office of 
Chief Justice. On 23 December, 1877, The Raleigh Observer, then 
edited by Peter M. Hale and William L. Saunders, contained the follow- 
ing editorial : 

"As was natural, when the time came to look around for men to put upon 
the highest judicial tribunal in the State, and people everywhere began to 
seek out the ablest and the best, the people of North Carolina instinctively 
and, we may say, almost with one consent cast their eyes upon Mr. George 
Davis of Wilmington. As pure as he is able, and as able as he is true and 
devoted to the land that gave him birth. North Carolina never had a more 
worthy, a more brilliant, or more devoted son than he, nor one better fitted 
in all the qualities of head and heart for the high position to which people 
everywhere expected him to be called. It is with unfeigned regret, there- 
fore, that we publish the following letter to a gentleman in this city an- 
nouncing Mr. Davis's purpose not to allow his name to be used in connection 
with the nomination for the Supreme Court bench, and giving his reason 

In this letter Mr. Davis said : 

"No man can hold in higher estimation than I do the dignity of such a posi- 
tion. To fill it worthily would be my highest ambition. But in this thing, as 
in so many others, I am obedient to necessity. I cannot live upon the salary. 
And barely to live is not all my need. One of my first duties in life now is 
to endeavor to make some provision for the little children that have come to 
me in my age. At the bar such an expectation may not be unreasonable when 
better times shall come. But upon the Bench I should be compelled to 
abandon such a hope forever. I must, therefore, decline to permit my name 
to go before the Convention of the Democratic Party in connection with such 
a nomination." 

Hardly had that announcement been made when Chief Justice Pear- 
son suddenly died. There was "a. universal manifestation of opinion 
that Mr. Davis wa.s the first man in the State to whom the position 
should be offered." Governor Vance was at Charlotte, and, returning 
to Raleigh, told Colonel Saunders that "the universal expression was 


that Mr. Duvis was the person to whom the people were looking to be 
made Chief Justice, and that aside from hi3 desire to meet the expecta- 
tions of the people, and to make a good appointment, he dasired Mr. 
Davis to accept the position, as it would relieve him from embarrass- 
ment in choosing from between others. He was satisfied that his ap- 
pointment would not give offense to any aspirant not appointed." 

As Colonel Saunders said, "To relieve that embarrassment it was 
necessary that the new Chief Justice should be facile princeps." And 
this was the recognized position of Mr. Davis. Governor Vance tendered 
the appointment to Mr. Davis, who declined it, for the rea.son previously 
given in declining to allow his name to be considered by the convention 
when it should meet. 

Governor Vance some days later, in a letter to Air. Davis, said : 

"I desire to avail myself of this opportunity to say to you, in person, what 
I have often said and always thought in your absence, that you are one of the 
men who have steadily pursued principle for its own sake, spurning alike the 
temptations of office and the lures of ambition when they came not strictly 
within the utmost requirements of dignity and manly honor. As such there 
has come to me, as the result of my position, no greater happiness than the 
ability to testify my appreciation of your character and worth, and of the 
great service your e.xample has been in shaping and toning the political 
ethics of our society. In attempting to honor you by the bestowal of that 
great office I have also attempted to show what is my own sense of State honor 
as well as to give expression to the general voice of our people." 

I am sure that Mr. Davis wished that he could have accepted the 
office. It would have given him the greatest satisfaction to have worn 
the ermine here. Indeed, it was the only official station that could have 
tempted him to forego the pleasures of private life, but it would have 
gratified his ambition and he would have prized the honor and would 
have found happiness in association with his fellow members of the 

The passing years left their impress upon him, and, somewhat en- 
feebled, he retired from the exacting duties of his profession, still, how- 
ever, continuing as the adviser of the great companies he had formerly 
served so well. 

Eventually, on 23 February, 189G. having lived more than three- 
quarters of a century, Mr. Davis was gathered to his fathers. 

The people of his community were profoundly moved. Xo other man 
had ever been so revered on the Cape Fear. 

The- Chamber of Commerce appointed James Sprunt, William Calder, 
and William K. Kenan a committee to prepare a suitable memorial and 
record of his life. The memoir presented to the Chamber of Commerce 
on 5 March, 1896, and published by it, is a masterful presentation of the 
characteristics, the attainments, and the literary accomplishments and 
of the surpassing wortli of Mr. Davi'^. In it T ifind an estimate of Mr. 


Davis by Warren G. Eliot, hiinsflf a distin^iished North Carolinian, 
irom which I quote: 

"Mr. Davis gave to us a splendid illustration of every manly virtue. He 
was a good man, a just man, a strong man, a patriotic citizen, full of love and 
affection for his native State; a lovable, companionable friend; affectionate 
and tender in his domestic relations; a brave and fearless man, with a love 
for the right and a scorn for the wrong; chivalrous and honorable; a true 
type of the Olden School — the type that never had a superior, and never will. 
His life was a lofty ideal, a standard to be lived up to, and worthy to be 

"He has laid down his armor when the tide was at its ebb, after having 
enjoyed, during a long and eventful life, the greatest riches that this world 
can bestow — the genuine love, reverence, respect, and admiration of his fellow- 
man, with his integrity unstained, and without a whisper of detraction against 
his motives, his character, or his purposes. And the Christian grace and 
dignity with which he met the final summons was but the crowning glory of 
an honorable and exemplary career." 

Later, tlie people of Wihiiingtou, desiring to give a more substantial 
expression of their estimate of their beloved and revered fellow-citizen, 
acting through the Daughters of the Confederacy, erected a monument 
to his memory, in the heart of the city, and placed upon it an imperish- 
able statue of his person, the first statue erected in North Carolina to a 
private citizen by the community in which he lived. 

Truly Mr. Davis's early hope was realized — he did not "leave an un- 
remembered name." 

This statue was unveiled 20 April, 1911, and on that occasion Honor- 
able Henry C Connor delivered a comprehensive address commemora- 
tive of Mr. Davis, that was worthy of the gi'eat man who was the subject, 
and that reflects the high ideals, the sterling patriotism, and the literary 
excellence of the accomplished author. 

To that address and to the admirable memoir prepared by Dr. James 
Sprimt, I am indebted for much material that I have used. 

May I say, in conclusion, that in my early manhood it was my good 
fortune to have known Mr. Davis well, to have sat at his feet, and to 
have learned there much that I hope entered into my life; and that T 
have never ceased to be grateful that he accorded me his affectionate 
friendship. It was a privilege to know him, and an honor to have en- 
joyed his esteem. 

I have had some acquaintance by intercourse and by study with the 
public men of North Carolina. It has seemed to me that in some respects 
Mr. Davis and Judge Gaston approached each other. Mr. Davis was 
apparently the more accomplished and, perhaps, was more richly en- 
dowed by nature, and was the more studious to excel, doing superbly 
whatever he undertook. Judge Gaston had perhaps the more incisive 
mind, and was more given to reflection. 


They were each, alike, crowned by virtue and may ju.-^tly be ^•par(l(^d 
as among the most ilhistrious of North Carolinians; hut a paralh'l can- 
not well he drawn hctween them. Except the slight disturbance of 
1812-14, and the internal diflForence.s that were cured in 1835, Judge 
Gaston's voyage of life was through placid waters; while Mr. Davis 
lived through a period of storm, of heroic struggle, of calamity,— when 
devotion exalted the soul of the patriot, and the iron in a true man, by 
the alchemy of a fiery furnace, was turned to burnished steel and became 
resplendent in the sunlight of heaven. 

It is the portrait of this Carolinian, eminent fur his virtues and for 
his learning, lofty in his ideals, of high merit in the field of literature, 
magnificent in oratory, great in his thoughts, and great in his perfonn- 
ance, who filled his appropriate place among the chiefest men of the 
Confederacy, and was so schooled to duty that he could, at its call, relin- 
quish a noble ambition— to sit here, in the seat of the mighty, and write 
his name imperishably in the jurisprudence of his native State — it is the 
portrait of this illustrious man and distinguished member of the bar of 
this Court that I am commissioned to ask your Honors to accept. 

It was painted by Mr. Busbee of this city; and those who have seen it 
agree with me that it is a good representation of Mr. Davis, lacking, 
perhaps, in some lights, a certain sweetness of expression that I used to 
find in his kindly face, but certainly worthy of admiration for its ex- 

I beg that your Honors will accept it and will order that it be pre- 
served on your walla, in association with the portraits of the other emi- 
nent men that are so worthily preserved here. 

immm °'' CONGRESS 


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